Save a Life


 Types of Drowning

Maryland, Virginia, & Washington, D.C.

Drowning is a common cause of death for children under age 14. It is the second leading cause of death for children of this age, after car accidents. But not all drowning accidents are the same, and it is important to know the types of drowning, first to prevent injury, and second to understand your potential legal rights in the event that a loved one suffers this type of accident.

 Understanding Drowning

Drowning is a condition where the body suffers oxygen deprivation (asphyxia) as a result of fluid exposure. Beyond these basic elements, though, drowning can be very different. Recognized types of drowning include:

  • Wet drowning
  • Dry drowning
  • Near drowning
  • Secondary drowning

Because of the diversity of drowning, it is impossible to predict the ultimate outcome of any drowning accident. Sometimes, a person may be completely submerged underwater for extended periods and be fully resuscitated with little or no permanent damage. Other times, a person may never actually be submerged but may drown after taking in less than four ounces of water.

Wet Drowning

Wet drowning is the most common form of drowning. It occurs when a person’s lungs fill with water, and the person suffers oxygen deprivation leading to brain death. During initial submersion, a person may gasp and inhale a small amount of water that can lead to spasms around the larynx that seal it, preventing the entry of either air or water. After a short period of oxygen deprivation, the body begins to asphyxiate, and the muscles around the larynx relax, allowing water to fill the lungs.

Dry Drowning

Dry drowning occurs when the muscle action around the larynx that seal the airway prevent significant amounts of water from ever entering the lungs. However, air is also prevented from entering (or leaving) the lungs, and the person asphyxiates. The person may also suffer pulmonary edema, in which blood accumulates in the lungs. Dry drowning is often confused with secondary drowning.

Near Drowning

Near drowning is when a person suffers oxygen deprivation as a result of drowning but is revived after a period of time. Depending on the duration of oxygen deprivation, a victim of near drowning may suffer significant complications, including permanent brain damage.

Secondary Drowning

Secondary drowning occurs when a person inhales fluid into the lungs and that fluid damages the interior surfaces of the lungs, reducing their ability to exchange air. The fluid can irritate the lungs, causing the body to produce additional fluid to lubricate the lungs and stop irritation, but these fluids can actually contribute to asphyxiation. Secondary drowning is common among near-drowning victims, and all near-drowning victims should be evaluated for inhaled fluid even if they seem fine after resuscitation.

The following examples and laws pertain to those in American soil. It may vary greatly in our country.


Swimming Pool Accidents and Deaths

Especially in Florida, families routinely gather and enjoy daylong pool parties while basting in the sun. Sadly, as the water splashes and laugher abounds, danger is ever present. According to national statistics, during 2005 an average of 10 unintentional drownings occurred on a daily basis. Over 25% of all fatal drowning victims are children younger than 14. In addition, for every 1 child that dies from a drowning incident, another 4 receive emergency medical treatment for a near drowning experience.

Medically frail elderly persons also have a high drowning incident rate. Nonfatal drowning victims can suffer from a host of brain damage injuries, including traumatic brain injury and other neurological damage. Many times, nonfatal drowning victims suffer lifelong disabilities, including brain damage, learning disabilities, and memory and speech problems. Some victims remain in a permanent vegetative state.

Below are some additional sobering statistics:

  • Drowning is the 4th leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.
  • A child can drown in less than 2 minutes.
  • Nearly 20% of child drowning deaths occur in public pools with lifeguards present.
  • For every 1 child under the age of 4 that dies in a motor vehicle accident, another 14 die in a swimming pool.
  • Over 70% of preschoolers that drown were in the care of one or both parents and were missing from sight for less than 5 minutes.
  • Florida leads the nation with the most number of drowning incidents.
  • In Florida, the number one cause of death for children under the age of 14 is drowning.

The majority of fatal and nonfatal drowning cases often occur in one’s own backyard swimming pool. Bathtubs, buckets, toilets and baby pools are the most common cause of drowning for infants. Swimming pools, hot tubs and spas are the most common cause of drowning for children ages 1 – 4. Swimming pools, the beach, lakes, canals and rivers are the leading cause of drowning for children ages 5 – 14. Alcohol and drug use were present in over 50% of adolescent and adult fatal drowning cases.

In 2000, the Florida legislature passed the Preston de Ibern/McKenzie Merriam Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act. The act applies to newly installed pools, hot tubs and spas installed after 2001. The act requires adherence to one of four safety measures which includes 1) installation of a protective barrier, such as a fence, at least 4 feet high surrounding all sides of the pool 2) an approved pool cover 3) entrances to the property or pool area must have self locking and closing devices and 4) all doors and windows having direct access to the pool must have an exit alarm.

Tips on Preventing Water Related Injuries and Drowning:

  • Avoid alcohol consumption while supervising children in or around water
  • Avoid any other distraction when child is bathing, swimming, or playing in or around water;
  • Avoid deep water;
  • Install safety fences around pool with self locking and self closing devices;
  • Learn to swim;
  • Learn CPR, including your child’s caregivers, nanny and babysitters;
  • Swim when lifeguard is present;
  • Swim with a buddy;
  • Use life jackets.

Common causes of swimming pool and drowning accidents can include:

  • Dangerous entrapment equipment;
  • Defective pool equipment, such as a pool pump;
  • Failure to have safety equipment around pool;
  • Failure to install appropriate pool gate locks and latches;
  • Failure to install safety gate or fence around pool;
  • Failure to install slip proof flooring around pool;
  • Failure to secure water fountain from small children;
  • Failure to post no swimming, no diving or water depth signs;
  • Failure to post no trespassing signs;
  • Failure to properly secure property and pool area from wandering children and mentally challenged or disabled adults;
  • Failure to provide any lifeguards;
  • Hot tub or spa manufacturer liability,
  • Negligent caregivers;
  • Negligent floating devices;
  • Poorly maintained swimming pool;
  • Products liability, such as pool drain manufacturer;
  • Uncertified or incompetent lifeguards;
  • Unsupervised pool areas;
  • Violations of building code, ordinance or statues.

Common injuries sustained in swimming pool and drowning accidents can include:

  • Brain damage;
  • Brain dead;
  • Broken neck;
  • Catastrophic injuries;
  • Coma;
  • Death by drowning;
  • Diving board injuries;
  • Electrocution accidents;
  • Head injuries;
  • Neck and back injuries;
  • Neurological injury;
  • Oxygen deprivation injuries
  • Paralysis;
  • Paraplegia;
  • Quadriplegia;
  • Slip and fall around pool area;
  • Spinal cord injuries;
  • Traumatic brain injuries;
  • Other personal injuries.

Common negligent parties include:

  • Apartment complex owners;
  • Babysitters;
  • Caregivers;
  • Condominium associations;
  • Country clubs;
  • Government entities,
  • Homeowner associations;
  • Homeowners;
  • Hotels;
  • Landlords;
  • Lifeguards;
  • Motels;
  • Neighbors;
  • Owners of property that contain bodies of water such as private lakes, ponds, creeks, streams, canals, etc;
  • Public pool owners or operators;
  • Swimming pool contractors and builders;
  • Water and theme parks;
  • Other pool, hot tub or spa owners and operators.


Swimming Pool Liability

Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Swimming can be a great way to spend a hot summer day, but even the best swimmers can under some circumstances succumb to the danger ofdrowning. In many cases, the swimming pool owner, manager, or operator may have contributed to the circumstances that led to the drowning or near drowning.

When a Swimming Pool Owner Is at Fault

Although some drownings are accidents, frequently the drowning could, and should, have been prevented. This is the case when drowning is due to:

  • Lack of pool supervision
  • Carelessness
  • Risky behavior encouraged by pool owner
  • Faulty pools
  • Poor pool maintenance

The person or persons responsible for a drowning depends on the exact circumstances of the case. We can help you examine the circumstances of the case and determine liability related to your loved one’s swimming pool drowning accident.

Lack of Supervision

Ideally, all public pools should have lifeguards on duty to protect and safeguard those in the pool. A lifeguard on duty must be properly trained and attentive. A private pool owner should also have a way to keep children out of a pool, and if the pool owner invites families with children over for swimming must maintain careful supervision of the pool for the duration of the visit.

Risky Behavior

Risky behavior contributes to many swimming pool drowning accidents and other injuries. If a pool owner encourages risky behavior or participates in it, he or she may be held liable. Examples including diving into shallow pools and encouraging others to try or holding poolside parties where significant alcohol consumption is encouraged.


Pool covers and pool cleaning equipment can constitute grave dangers if left in the pool while people are swimming. Similarly, any object left lying around the edge of the pool can cause a person to trip and fall.

Pool Maintenance

A swimming pool requires regular maintenance to remain a safe, fun place for swimmers. Many underground pools experience buckling and heaving around the top of the pool, which can create uneven surfaces and increase the threat of falling into the pool. A good swimmer can drown after falling into a pool, whether from inhaling water during a surprised gasp or suffering a head, leg, arm, or spine injury during the fall.

An essential part of pool maintenance is also ensuring that rescue equipment like a shepherd’s hook and rescue flotation device are present, highly visible, and in good condition.

Defective Pools

There are many ways in which a pool can be defective. One of the most dangerous is defective pool drains that can lead to drowning or other injuries. A pool is also defective if it is not properly marked to warn whether a pool is too deep for non-swimmers or too shallow for divers. Defective ladders can make it hard for distressed swimmers to get out of the pool and contribute to their drowning accident.

An essential part of pool maintenance is also ensuring that rescue equipment like a shepherd’s hook and rescue flotation device are present, highly visible, and in good condition.

Swimming Pool Liability Questions

Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

When can a pool owner be held liable for drowning accidents?

A pool owner can be held liable for drowning accidents when the drowning was the consequence of carelessness by the pool owner. The pool owner can also be held liable when the drowning was the consequence of a situation caused by the pool owner, known to the pool owner, or that could reasonably be expected to be known by the pool owner.

Who else can be held liable for drowning accidents?

In some cases, the pool manufacturer, the pool manager or supervisor, and/or people responsible for pool maintenance may be liable for damages following a drowning accident.

What are some situations in which a pool owner may be liable in a drowning accident?

swimming pool owner may be liable in drowning accidents that are the result of:

  • Poorly supervised pools
  • Risky behavior encouraged by the pool owner
  • Defective pools
  • Poorly maintained pools

How can a defective pool lead to drowning?

A common way that a defective pool can lead to drowning is when the swimming pool drain creates suction that draws swimmers to the bottom and holds them there. In addition, a pool may not have clearly marked depths, causing people to dive into shallow water, one of the leading causes of spinal injury, or jump into water too deep for their skill level.

What pool maintenance is crucial to preventing drowning accidents?

To prevent drowning accidents, the surface around the pool must be level, have a non-slip texture, be free of heaves, buckles, cracks, and tears. Water should not be allowed to puddle around the pool to create a slipping hazard. Safety equipment must be in its place, be in good working order, and be highly visible. Pool covers must be completely removed when people are swimming and the pool should be free of obstructions like pool cleaning equipment.

Fences around a pool must also be well-maintained to prevent neighborhood children from using the pool unsupervised.

When should a lifeguard be on duty at a pool?

All public or semi-public pools should always have a lifeguard on duty.

What qualifications should a lifeguard have?

A lifeguard should be certified, capable of retrieving a drowning victim, and performing first aid. The lifeguard should be capable of doing this with any victim.

A lifeguard must be capable of maintaining focus on swimmers without becoming distracted. A pool that relies on teens over summer break for lifeguard duty must be careful to select teens who are qualified and certified lifeguards. Pools with a large number of swimmers or that are very large should employ multiple lifeguards to ensure proper supervision of the pool.

What encouragement of risky behavior might make a pool owner liable for a drowning accident?

There are many risky behaviors that pool owners encourage but could lead to drowning accidents. A pool owner may start or encourage a game of tag around the pool. A pool owner can model dangerous behaviors like flipping or diving into a shallow pool. A pool owner can also throw poolside parties with a large supply of alcohol, or with many kids but little supervision.

Failure to Provide a Lifeguard

Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

If a loved one begins to experience distress while swimming at a pool, you may not be able to save him or her from drowning, even if you are a strong swimmer. Even if you can get your loved one out of the water, you may not be able to provide life-saving first aid in the event of a near drowning. You may not even know your loved one is in distress until it is too late. It is for this reason that public pools should have lifeguards on duty, lifeguards that are appropriately certified for the duty of saving lives, lifeguards that are strong swimmers and trained in first aid.

When a Lifeguard Should Be Present

Laws governing exactly when a lifeguard is required vary, but in most cases the common-law understanding is that a lifeguard should be present at any pool when a significant risk of drowning exists. Since drowning and other injuries (such as spinal injury from diving) can occur in very shallow water, some are in favor of lifeguards at all pools. In reference to easing a county law in Virginia that required a lifeguard at all swimming pools, an American Lifeguard Association official was recently quoted as saying, “If they’re going to dig a hole and fill it with water, they should take the responsibility to help ensure the general safety of the public.”

Any time a business invites you to utilize swimming facilities but does not provide a lifeguard, it is putting you at risk. A business, such as a hotel, invites you to use its swimming facilities if it advertises them as a feature. Laws requiring lifeguards set a minimum standard for safety–they do not excuse business owners from liability.

Lifeguard Certification

Calling someone a lifeguard and putting him at a lifeguard station does not make him a lifeguard. A number of certification programs exist, but they all have several common features. To be certified, a lifeguard must be able to:

  • Swim 300 yards continuously
  • Swim 20 yards, dive 7-10 feet, retrieve an object, swim back to the starting place and emerge from the water without a ladder or steps–all in less than 2 minutes
  • Demonstrate proficiency in rescue moves
  • Demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in providing first aid to head, neck, or back injury victims
  • Perform CPR on adults and children
  • Perform miscellaneous first aid

Not having a certified lifeguard on duty at a pool may be considered equivalent to having no lifeguard on duty.

Why If no Lifeguard is on Duty?

Most complaints from pool owners about lifeguard requirements center on the cost of providing a lifeguard. Once constructed, a pool is relatively inexpensive to maintain, and it is seen as a profitable asset to a business like a hotel or resort. However, the cost of maintaining a lifeguard reduces the profitability of a pool.

Certified lifeguards have higher salary requirements than general employees, and many pool owners hire “pool attendants,” who are nominally responsible for supervising a pool, but are also expected to fetch towels, clean up, haul trash, and sometimes even act as waiters for poolside restaurants. This means they may be distracted or even absent when needed.

Drowning accident lawsuits perform an important function because they remind pool owners about the cost of not providing a lifeguard. A lawsuit allows you to express your loss in terms that business owners can understand so they will be more likely to have lifeguards on duty, whether strictly required or not, and save other families from the tragedy you experienced.

Pool Rules

Insurance requirements as well as safety considerations lead to the establishment of official pool rules:

1.UNATTENDED SOLO BATHING IS PROHIBITED AT ALL TIMES. This means no person of any age may enter the pool water unless another person 18 years of age or older is present inside the clubhouse, the fenced pool area, or in the pool.

2. Swimming is not permitted after sunset or before sunrise. Whenever thunder is heard or lightning is seen, the pool and concrete deck surrounding the pool are to be evacuated. No one is to enter the pool unless ten minutes have elapsed without thunder or lightning.

3. Main access to the pool is normally through the wooden gate. This gate is designed to be self-closing and self-locking. Under no circumstances is anyone permitted to defeat the self-closing and self-locking feature.

4. When the lifeguard is present, the clubhouse and the metal fence gate on the Summerford Court side of the pool will be opened for access. This gate and the clubhouse will be locked when the lifeguard is not on duty.

5. The maximum number of persons permitted in the pool at one time is 45.

6. Age Limits: Children 7 years and younger are NOT allowed inside the fenced pool area or clubhouse at any time without a parent or homeowner.

7. Children 8 through 17 years of age are allowed inside the fenced pool/clubhouse area without a parent or escort if BOTH of the following conditions are met:

8. A lifeguard employee of the SSTC is present AND The child has passed a swimming qualification test administered by the lifeguard. Children aged 8 through 12 are in a probation status. If cited by the lifeguard for rules violation, these children will require adult escort for the next two weeks (as if age 7 or under).

9. Lifeguard whistle means STOP AND LISTEN. Lifeguard has complete authority at all times to enforce these rules. The lifeguard has the authority to refuse the use of the pool to anyone not abiding by the rules.

10. Running, pushing in the pool, dunking, chicken fighting, and other rough play are not permitted inside the pool area. Pets are not permitted in the Pool/Clubhouse area.

11. No smoking, glass, chewing tobacco, or gum are permitted in the pool-fenced area or clubhouse. No tennis, nerf, etc. type balls are allowed in the pool.

Proper bathing suits are required. No cutoffs, or street type clothes are to be worn in the pool.

12. No person with a communicable disease that is transmittable via water will be allowed to use the pool.

13. Rafts and floats may be used if the number of swimmers is small. The lifeguard will control all raft and float use. Raft and float use will normally be prohibited when the pool is crowded.

14. Parents and escorts are responsible for supervision of their children. Parents aren’t to permit non-swimmers to enter the deep end.

15. Bubbles/swimmies are not life saving devices and children in them should be watched closely.

16. When the lifeguard is present, the ten minutes prior to each hour is designated “Adult Swim Period.” During this time all children under the age of 18 must leave the pool water ENTIRELY.

17. Members are to have their passkeys with them when in the pool area. All guests must be accompanied at all times by a member.

18. Due to the safety and liability concerns, anyone found violating age limit rules will be suspended immediately from use of the pool for a period of three days.

19. No swimming is permitted when the pool is being cleaned.

20. If more than three guests are to accompany a homeowner to the pool, the homeowner must meet the special guest requirements: *

21. If more than three guests pool committee (or board) approval must be made unless: The guests are staying at Homeowners home. Under the condition that it is not an organized function and there is proper supervision.


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